1999: What A Year In Film
By Noah Gittell
The autumn of 2019 is poised to be a stellar movie season, with films such as “The Irishman,” “Little Women,” “Joker,” and “1917” high on even the most casual viewer’s radar. Still, 2019 has nothing on 1999. Twenty years ago, we experienced a fall movie season for the ages. Rarely has such a large collection of masterworks been released in such a short window of time.
It started in early September with “American Beauty.” Although it has aged badly, was a hit with critics and audiences alike, and held off all its competitors to capture a slew of Oscars the following February, including Best Picture, Actor, Director, and Original Screenplay. October saw the release of “Three Kings,” a George Clooney-starrer that is still the best film ever made about the Iraq War, and David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” which was a flop at the time but quickly became a cult classic. Also released that October was “Bringing out the Dead,” a surrealist thriller from Martin Scorsese starring Nicolas Cage as an insomniac EMS worker; “Boys Don’t Cry,” a groundbreaking social drama about a slain transgendered woman; and “Being John Malkovich,” a trippy comedy that introduced us to the weird, wonderful talents of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze.
There’s more. Also in 1999, we got Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” a stunning whistleblower drama about BIg Tobacco; “Toy Story 2,” the first great animated sequel; “The Straight Story,” experimental filmmaker David Lynch’s winning attempt at conventional filmmaking; “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” featuring an Oscar-nominated Matt Damon; and “Any Given Sunday,” Oliver Stone’s critique of the NFL that was years ahead of its time.
Yes, it puts a typical slate from our era to shame. Stil, there were special circumstances that made the fall of 2019 so prolific. In the early ‘90s, the independent film boom helped young filmmakers find their audience, and as their artistic prowess continued to grow, several of them came of age in 1999 to produce masterworks. Young directors such as Kevin Smith and Paul Thomas Anderson, who were a product of the boom, would release their most ambitious films that year – “Dogma” and “Magnolia,” respectively. Fincher and Kaufman were part of the same generation. At the same time, older masters like Mann, Stone, and Scorsese were continuing to do vital work.
It was unprecedented in Hollywood’s history to have two generations of filmmakers producing films of artistic and commercial clout at the same time. With so many dynamics at play, it was a unique golden age of cinema, but it’s worth noting that not much has changed today. Most of the filmmakers represented above are still active, while a new generation that includes Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, and Damian Chazelle haveedged their way into the spotlight. People like to lament our current age of cinema and pretend things were better in the old days, but viewed through the right lens, we have been living in a golden age of cinema since last century.